What Edward Snowden Teaches Us About the Current Issues of Individual Privacy
Barton Gellman in Conversation with Andrew Keen on the Keen On
The coronavirus pandemic is dramatically disrupting not only our daily lives but society itself. This show features conversations with some of the world’s leading thinkers and writers about the deeper economic, political, and technological consequences of the pandemic. It’s our new daily podcast trying to make longterm sense out of the chaos of today’s global crisis.
On today’s episode, Barton Gellman, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Dark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State, discusses whether there will be a second or third act in the Snowden narrative.
From the episode:
Barton Gellman: Snowden taught us that we have to pay attention to the data that’s being collected about us and the uses to which it’s put. The good news about the pandemic and privacy is that it’s being talked about openly. There are proposals to use electronic surveillance methods for contact tracing. The proposals are out in the open. Apple and Google have built an API that is going to be out in the open. They’ve got white papers about it. Nevertheless, we have to be concerned about what happens next. Apple and Google are not themselves building apps to trace contacts, to track our contacts with other people. They’re building just the API. They’re leaving to governments or someone else in the private sector to build the apps and what the apps actually do and what they collect. Who gets to see it? How long do they store it? What other purposes can be served by it? Those are all big questions that have not been resolved at all.
Andrew Keen: Your new book, Dark Mirror, is a very detailed narrative of not only the the Edward Snowden case, but your relationship with Snowden. You say in the book that you believe he did substantially more good than harm. Explain why.
Barton Gellman: I think he did good in two principal ways. He enabled a debate that simply wasn’t going to happen otherwise. The one debate was, how do we protect American democracy? How do you set boundaries in a democratic society between the actual value of intelligence and the limits that you would like to have on what the government can intrude on private lives of citizens? So on one hand, he enabled a debate and some real movement on democracy. On the other, he manifestly made huge improvements in Internet security. Because of Snowden, there was suddenly a large market for privacy and security among the Internet providers. The giants like Google and Microsoft and Facebook, every large entity like that, began encrypting its connections to your computer. In the past, many of them had been open. Anyone along the trunk lines of the Internet could intercept and even alter what you were doing. Now you’ve got H.T., TPF, SSL, the basics of encryption on the Internet are in very, very widespread use. It’s rare now to find a major site that is not encrypted. That alone is an enormous improvement in the security and privacy of everyone in the world.
Barton Gellman is a Pulitzer Prize and Emmy Award-winning journalist. Since 2013 he has been a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. During 21 years at the Washington Post he served tours as legal, military, diplomatic, and foreign correspondent. He has taught courses at Princeton on nonfiction writing, investigative reporting and national security secrecy. His bestselling Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was a New York Times Best Book of 2008.